Caracas, October 27, 2016 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Fresh violence erupted across Venezuela on Wednesday, as hundreds of thousands of anti-government demonstrators took to the streets of Caracas in protest against the national government. Opposition politicians are celebrating the demonstration as one of their biggest marches to date.
The mobilization was called in response to the National Electoral Council's (CNE) temporary suspension of the presidential recall referendum process last week, pending investigations into 53,658 fraudulent signatures collected by the opposition earlier this year.
As the march made its way through Caracas, thousands of Chavistas also began to gather around the outskirts of the Miraflores Presidential Palace in defence of President Nicolas Maduro.
Earlier in the week, former opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski told press that opposition forces would not “rule out a march on Miraflores.”
However, the opposition leadership appeared to change tactics as the demonstration set out, confirming to supporters that they will march on the presidential palace on November 3.
No confrontation between the two sets of Caracas demonstrators ultimately took place.
The opposition march comes on the heels of a huge Chavista march Tuesday, called to defend Maduro from an unilateral impeachment attempt by the opposition-held National Assembly last Sunday.
Opposition leaders have called a 12-hour general strike for Friday to demand the CNE go forward with the next phase of the recall procedure.
Fresh wave of violence
While the protests in the capital remained largely peaceful, demonstrations elsewhere in the country turned violent as opposition supporters attacked government buildings and personnel.
A Miranda state police officer was reportedly shot dead by armed demonstrators in the course of an effort to disperse an opposition roadblock between kilometer 14 and 15 of the Pan-American highway, the principal artery traversing the Caracas metropolitan region.
As seen in video footage, officer Jose Alejandro Molina Ramirez was part of a team attempting to dialogue with the protesters, when he was killed by bullets fired from within the crowd. The Public Prosecutor’s office has opened an investigation into the homicide.
Two other officers suffered bullet wounds in the hand and arm, respectively, while a third was wounded in the face by a blunt object.
In the southwestern state of Tachira, protesters reportedly hurled stones and Molotov cocktails at the local offices of the CNE in San Cristobal on Wednesday morning. The demonstrators attempted to set fire to the building before they were dispersed by National Guard personnel. The incident follows a similar molotov attack on the CNE’s offices in Lara on Monday.
Protesters also attacked the San Cristobal campuses of the Bolivarian University and the National Experimental University, which are frequent targets for local right-wing groups.
In Cojedes state, a group of opposition supporters led by former San Carlos mayor Ramon Moncada attacked three United Socialist Party Youth leaders with stones and pipes. The victims were rushed to the emergency room of the local hospital, the state government reports.
Meanwhile, in the southeastern state of Amazonas, the director general of the state’s cultural cabinet, Yuri Patiño, was attacked by members of the hard right Popular Will party in the Plaza Bolivar of Puerto Ayacucho.
“I was knocked to the ground and a man from Popular Will pressed his foot against my neck,” she said.
Patiño indicated that the local opposition march was led by the Amazonas National Assembly Deputy Romul Guzamana, who was suspended by the Supreme Court over investigations into electoral fraud.
In Merida, confrontations between armed demonstrators and police led to the burning of a police patrol car, while in Aragua, TransAragua buses were attacked with stones, leaving several units with broken windows.
On Sunday, the opposition issued a document that proclaimed a “breach of the constitutional order in Venezuela” and accused President Maduro of having abandoned the “constitutional functions of his post”. It also called for international intervention to “guarantee the rights” of Venezuelans and appealed to the armed forced to disobey the national government.
The statement was widely interpreted as a Brazil-style attempt to remove the president through the initiation of impeachment proceedings, and prompted hundreds of Chavistas to storm and occupy the National Assembly mid-session in protest.
In a parliamentary session called to “begin the process of determining the constitutional situation of the Presidency of the Republic” on Tuesday, the opposition appeared, however, to backtrack on its initial statement.
“I have heard a kind of confusion due to a poor reading of the Constitution or a poor understanding, confusing a political evaluation hearing with the destitution of the president,” said National Assembly President Henry Ramos Allup.
Tuesday’s session ended with Congress signing an agreement to begin “an evaluation and determination of the political responsibility of the President of the Republic in the serious constitutional and democratic rupture”.
The objective of the move remains unclear. According to legal experts, the Venezuelan Constitution does not contemplate the destitution of the president without a trial by the Supreme Court.
“In Venezuela, a political hearing of the president cannot lead to his removal,” José Ignacio Hernández, a law professor and constitutional expert told BBC Mundo.
“It has no immediate juridic consequences,” added the professor.
The National Assembly has continued to hold sessions despite being declared “null” by the Supreme Court Justice earlier in August, after the body proceeded to swear in three legislators pending official inquiries into allegations of vote buying and other irregularities during the December 6 parliamentary elections.